Legacy restaurants aren’t being left behind. Wendy’s has 10 company-owned restaurants in Florida that are powered by renewable energy. It expects to have another 22 by the end of this year and 35 more in 2025.
The restaurants are all in Central Florida and are sourcing renewable energy from Duke Energy Florida’s Clean Energy Connection program, a community solar offering.
“The solar facility was being built [by Duke Energy] and we raised our hand early to be part of this,” says Liliana Esposito, Wendy’s chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer. By the end of last year, when just seven restaurants were working with Duke, Wendy’s was sourcing 1,274 kilowatts (kw) of clean energy from the program; by 2025 it expects that to increase to 6,363 kW.
Wendy’s deliberately signed with Duke Energy in an area that had a lot of company-owned restaurants. “We see the company’s footprint as an important part of our business model,” Esposito explains. “It keeps us grounded and makes sure we’re operating restaurants in the way the franchisees are operating restaurants.” This program has the potential to expand to franchisees, she adds.
Moving toward renewable energy “has been a multi-year program,” Esposito says. This started in 2015 when Wendy’s joined the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, which encourages businesses to commit to improving building energy efficiency by 20 percent or more over 10 years and to share their strategies and results.
“We were looking at opportunities to be more energy efficient, which saves costs and is really impactful to the restaurants’ operating expenses ... and it has a real tangible benefit,” says Esposito.
Being part of the Better Buildings Challenge, Wendy’s was able to compare its restaurants. “There shouldn’t be wide variations in their energy use, so we can collect data and identify efficiencies,” she explains.
Because of what it’s learned, Wendy’s has installed energy management systems and more efficient equipment in many locations, like automated ware washing machines that reduce water used per dishwashing cycle by 47 percent. It has also added LED lighting in restaurants and parking lots. “It’s about keeping good track of what you’re using. If you look at your electricity bill and compare with other households in the neighborhood, you might see there’s something you could be doing better,” Esposito says.
This fall Wendy’s will open its first Global Next Gen restaurant. This design has about 10 percent energy savings compared to its former most energy-efficient model. Restaurants built with this prototype will use more efficient building elements (i.e. lighting and HVAC) to decrease energy usage and costs. They’re also cheaper to build and operate.
So far Wendy’s hasn’t seen any savings from switching to Duke Energy in the 10 Florida restaurants “but we see that as a longer-term potential,” Esposito says, adding that she expects to see that more after a full year of use. “Ultimately we anticipate there will be a savings but it will also be a more resilient source of energy and has a far more favorable environmental footprint compared to conventional electricity.”
Walking the Walk
Hannah’s Bretzel is a fast-casual sandwich concept with three locations in Chicago. Along with using 100 percent biodegradable or recyclable packaging, two electric Mini Coopers for deliveries, and in-store composting, the stores are powered by energy from wind and solar companies. Because the stores are all within high-rise buildings, there’s nowhere to place solar panels and this is the next best option, says CEO Florian Pfahler.
He partners with an energy provider to ensure the money he spends on electricity goes to the companies producing wind and energy, except for a small portion that goes to the energy company in the area.
Pfahler has been doing this for 15 years and he pays a premium for it. “We finance their operations and in return we enable them to produce more energy and get an even larger share of the grid,” he says.
“Money is not the only driver. I also want to lead by example,” the CEO adds. “There are a lot of customers who want to see businesses operate this way. I want to support that industry and see solar and wind grow.”
The premium price is worth it, he says, to know he’s doing the right thing and to let customers see that. It not only appeals to guests; it helps attract team members, too.
Pfahler lets consumers know about what he’s doing through prominent signage on the walls and through the company website and social media. “We make it fairly well known,” he points out. “It does influence some people’s decisions about where they eat.”
At the end of the day, it’s a decision that keeps Pfahler feeling better about his operations. “This is a no-brainer. I need to set this business up to contribute positively to the community.”